Gear

This VR device builds on one of Nintendo’s weirdest Switch accessories

Launching on Kicktstarter today, the Pimax Portal is an ambitious new gaming handheld with a 4K screen, and several interesting dock and headset accessories.

Do you remember the Nintendo Labo? It seems like Chinese VR hardware maker Pimax does.

The newly announced Pimax Portal, a Switch-like Android handheld with accessories that can turn it into a full-blown standalone VR headset, just launched its Kickstarter campaign on Tuesday. The device shares similarities with the cardboard Labo accessories Nintendo made for the Switch, specifically the Viewfinder-esque VR Kit that let you slot the Switch’s screen into a variety of different headsets.

Pimax’s version is far more ambitious and naturally comes with all of the uncertainty crowdfunding implies. Ahead of its planned 2023 launch, here’s what we know about the Pimax Portal.

Pimax Portal features

The Pimax Portal will have a companion VR headset, dock, and more.Pimax

The Pimax Portal, at its most basic level, is an Android handheld with removable controllers and either a 5.5-inch LCD or QLED screen in the general shape of the Nintendo Switch. Pimax says the device will be powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2, the same chip in Meta’s Quest 2, feature 32 physical buttons (not counting software options), and has five cameras on the back of the device for tracking and augmented reality features.

And that’s just for mobile gaming. Pimax describes the Portal as a “metaverse entertainment system,” so the real trick is all the other ways you can use the device. If you slot the Portal into Pimax’s Portal View headset, it can function as a standalone VR device with interchangeable lenses and controller housing that looks a bit like the Quest 2’s controllers. The company plans on selling a Pro version of the headset with an additional built-in 6,000 mAh battery.

Connected to the Portal Dock, the handheld can act as a traditional home console, or in Pimax’s vision, a fitness tracking device in the same vein as the Peloton Guide. Pimax also plans on selling a larger Pimax XL 8.8-inch screen you can dock the Portal into, and a Mini Station “portable off-board processor” for playing more graphically intense games on the handheld.

Pimax Portal Tech Specs

The Pimax Portal will work as an Android handheld when it’s not docked in any other accessories.Pimax

Here’s a breakdown of what Pimax is planning to include in the Portal:

  • CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2
  • GPU: Qualcomm Adreno 650
  • Memory: 8GB of RAM / 128GB of storage OR 8GB of RAM / 256GB of storage
  • Display: 5.5-inch, 3,840 x 2,160 resolution, 144Hz LCD or QLED display
  • Tracking: 6DoF (six degrees of freedom) tracking via four back cameras
  • Battery: 4,000mAh

Pimax Portal Price and Release Date

Pimax plans to start shipping the Portal and its accompanying accessories in January 2023. Current prices listed on the company’s Kickstarter are “early bird” so they’ll likely go up after the device's official release. Here’s the current price breakdown:

  • Starting at $299 for the Pimax Portal (LCD)
  • Starting at $449 for the Pimax Portal (LCD) and Portal View headset
  • Starting at $549 for the Pimax Portal (QLED)
  • Starting at $599 for the Pimax Portal (QLED) and Portal View Pro headset

Will the Pimax Portal be any good?

The Pimax Portal is a great idea, but the quality of its execution is an open question.Pimax

The Pimax Portal sits at the buzzy intersection of handheld gaming and virtual reality, but I have to urge serious caution: there are a lot of unknowns with this device.

Pimax has sold PC VR headsets before — and even recently introduced another standalone VR headset, the Pimax Crystal, earlier this year — but the Portal is far more complicated. The handheld itself is “ready for mass production” according to Pimax, but there’s no telling how many of the various accessories will actually ship with the device in January.

What’s clear about the Portal is that Pimax is onto something. The Nintendo Switch is powered by (aging) mobile hardware and many of the most popular standalone VR headsets are basically like souped-up Android smartphones on the inside. The impulse to combine the two devices seems like a good one. But like any piece of new hardware, the make or break will be whether or not there’s any software to run on it, and it’s not clear Pimax has the influence of a company like Meta to attract developers.

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